Special-mission Gulfstreams Approved for Italy

 - December 16, 2020, 1:15 PM
Italy has operated the E-550A version of the Gulfstream 550 on airborne early warning duties since IAI delivered the first in late 2016, and is now in the process of ordering reconnaissance/electronic warfare aircraft from L3 Harris. (Photo: IAI)

The U.S. State Department issued an approval on December 15 for the foreign military sale of two Gulfstream 550s to the Italian government. The aircraft will be outfitted for the Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare (AISREW) role, with L3 Harris at Greenville, Texas, acting as prime contractor and system installer.

Valued at $500 million, the potential sale includes a suite of mission systems, including the Rio communications intelligence system and MX-20HD electro-optical turret from L3 Harris, AISREW electronic warfare suite, and Leonardo Osprey 50 AESA radar. The aircraft will carry missile warning systems and ALE-47 countermeasures dispensers, and have secure embedded GPS/inertial navigation systems and identification friend or foe (IFF). Communications includes the Multifunctional Information Distribution System—Joint Tactical Radio System (MIDS JTRS). The aircraft are expected to resemble the Shavit ISR Gulfstreams operated by Israel. Australia also has ordered four of an L3 Harris-modified ISR version, which will be known as the MC-55A Peregrine in service.

Italy’s Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI, Italian air force) already has two special-mission Gulfstream 550s in service, having bought the conformal airborne early warning (CAEW) version—locally designated E-550A—from IAI. They are flown by the 71° Gruppo as part of the 14° Stormo at Pratica di Mare. The AISREW Gulfstreams are expected to operate from the same base.

In October Italy's annual defense budget mentioned the purchase of special-mission Gulfstreams, with €1.23 billion ($1.49bn) earmarked for the program. In early December the Italian defense ministry revealed plans to acquire up to eight Gulfstreams for the AISREW mission, with the first two to be bought as fully completed reconnaissance platforms. The following six would be bought as “green” aircraft to be fitted with mission systems at a later date. There is some urgency attached to their acquisition if the AMI wishes to operate an all-G550 fleet in the interest of commonality, as that model is nearing the end of production.

With potentially 10 G550-based special-mission aircraft in its fleet, the AMI has plans to establish a maintenance operation in Italy, which could also offer its services to other Gulfstream operators in the region.